Rep. Sherrill Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Safeguard Federal Research from Foreign Espionage

May 30, 2019
Press Release

Washington, DC – Today, Representative Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) joined with Representatives Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Jim Langevin (D-RI), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Frank Lucas (R-OK) to announce the introduction of the bipartisan Securing American Science and Technology Act of 2019 (SASTA), H.R. 3038, to address academic espionage at our institutions of higher education. The bill promotes standardization of federal agency approaches to academic espionage while maintaining collaboration and a welcoming environment for foreign talent at our institutions of higher education.

SASTA requires the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to establish an interagency working group of science, intelligence, and security agencies under the existing authority granted to the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). The group would evaluate existing mechanisms of control of federally funded research and develop a policy framework to address the security needs of agencies and federal grant recipients. SASTA also establishes a roundtable, convened by the National Academies, to facilitate an ongoing dialogue among federal science and security agencies and academia on these topics and to share best practices through public reports.

“There are serious and legitimate concerns about academic espionage at our universities,” said Representative Mikie Sherrill, Chairwoman of the House Science Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. “That’s why we’re proposing a unified approach to protect research without creating overlapping or contradictory federal requirements. We have to get this right. We must protect our innovation and research while maintaining the international engagement and demonstrated value foreign students bring to our institutions of higher learning, including our universities in New Jersey.”

“Universities throughout the state of Ohio are on the cutting edge of innovation and advancement. This makes our research programs a target for nations like China, who we know are actively stealing our intellectual property and world renowned research and development. It is vital for our national security and economic future that we do a better job preventing this form of foreign hostility and promote the great work being done at universities across our nation. This bill takes the first step towards accomplishing that,” said Representative Anthony Gonzalez.

“Intellectual property theft, cybersecurity breaches and other forms of espionage occurring at colleges and universities represent a threat to America’s innovative edge,” said Congressman Jim Langevin, chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities. “I share the concerns of academic institutions about foreign actors targeting them, and it is clear that they need improved assistance from the federal government in order to better defend their research and intellectual property. I’m grateful to Congresswoman Sherrill for tackling such an important issue early in her term by introducing the bipartisan Securing American Science and Technology Act. By better coordinating federal efforts to protect our universities, it will give schools tools to defend themselves while also protecting the important academic and cultural contributions that international students bring to our country.”

“Our national and economic security is being undermined by industrial espionage, cyber theft on a massive scale, and malign foreign influence on our campuses. While strategic competition is inevitable, we cannot continue to accept the status quo and allow our world-class Universities to be exploited,” said Representative Elise Stefanik, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities. “This bill is a first step in tackling this growing threat, and I look forward to working with Congress and the White House to ensure additional protections are in place for our most critical national security technologies.”

“The United States has long benefitted from the skills and knowledge of foreign-born scientists and engineers studying and carrying out their research in our U.S. universities,” said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, Chairwoman of the Science Committee. “We need only look at the statistics of American Nobel Prize winners to understand the critical importance of welcoming the best and brightest from wherever they hail. Since the first year of the awards, more than one-third of the American Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry, and medicine have been immigrants. However, several areas of academic research have increasingly significant implications for our economic and national security, making them vulnerable to theft, cyberattacks, and espionage by foreign actors. We must take these risks seriously, and we must figure out how to do so without stifling the open exchange of ideas that fuels discovery and innovation. That is a challenging task, but this bill establishes the collaborations and agenda to make that possible.”

“For more than a year, our Committee has been investigating the theft of proprietary technology and scientific discoveries from American universities,” said Representative Frank Lucas, Ranking Member of the Science Committee. “We’ve worked with law enforcement, counterintelligence, and academic institutions to consider how best to protect American research without preventing a collaborative approach to innovation. Our universities receive billions in federal funding to support important research and we have a responsibility to protect this taxpayer investment. This bill is the first step towards safeguarding our breakthrough discoveries and technologies and I’m proud to be a cosponsor.”

“I applaud Rep. Sherrill and her co-sponsors for this important legislation to help protect our nation’s scientific research enterprise,” said President Mary Sue Coleman of the Association of American Universities, which represents America’s leading research universities. “This legislation will advance both government and university efforts to secure our nation’s most sensitive scientific and technological advances while also ensuring that we continue to lead the world in science and innovation.”

“APLU applauds Representatives Sherrill, Gonzalez, Langevin, Stefanik, Johnson, and Lucas for introducing legislation that aims to better coordinate the federal government’s efforts to safeguard federally funded research from foreign influence, attacks, and theft,” Association of Public and Land-grant Universities President Peter McPherson said. “The United States’ research enterprise is one of our nation’s greatest assets, which is exactly why foreign governments and individuals seek to attack and unduly influence it. Our nation’s research universities play a leading role in conducting this cutting edge research on behalf of the American people. As schools work to better safeguard their research, this bill would help direct needed coordination between federal science and security offices and universities while also taking steps to protect the open exchange of ideas and spirit of collaboration that is required for successful research.”

“Princeton is pleased to support this thoughtful approach to addressing the coordination gaps across federal intelligence, security and science agencies on issues relating to security and federally funded research,” said Pablo G. Debenedetti, Class of 1950 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and Dean for Research at Princeton University. “As a member of the academic community, we also believe there is a great deal of value in putting in place a Roundtable to ensure dialogue between universities and those agencies. We must be vigilant in the face of security threats, while recognizing that fundamental research is built on the open exchange of ideas and information, including international collaboration. This continued exchange has been the basis of the extraordinary success of our national research enterprise, which is essential to the country’s continued position as an economic and academic leader.

“The potential for foreign interference in critical research by governments or individuals is very real and will only grow unless we act with resolve.  Taking meaningful steps now to improve protections for our research and data while at the same time assuring the open exchange of all necessary information to enhance collaboration between federal agencies and institutions like Rutgers and its peers is a national imperative that is recognized by Rep. Sherrill and we thank her for her leadership,” said Robert L. Barchi, President of Rutgers University. “Rep. Sherrill’s leadership in preserving and protecting critical scientific research from foreign interference, cyberattacks or espionage should be applauded across the research community -- by academia, by the private sector and by all of our federal partners,” he added.

The following organizations have endorsed the legislation: Aerospace Industries Association; American Association for the Advancement of Science; American Council on Education; Association of American Medical Colleges; Association of American Universities; Association of Public and Land-grant Universities; Brown University; Case Western Reserve University; Council on Governmental Relations; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; New York University; The Ohio State University; Princeton University; Rutgers University-The State University of New Jersey.

The full list of endorsements can be found here.